These WFH tech employees moved to another state and kept the same job


David Toole was thinking of returning to his hometown of Savannah, Ga., to raise his family and work. A pandemic — and the opportunity to have the move paid for — cinched it.

“COVID pushed us over the edge,” Tootle, 35, an account rep at Oracle Corp.
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, told MarketWatch, explaining his relocation to Savannah from Washington, D.C., in March. A program in Savannah in part helped finance the move. “I want to create more opportunities for Blacks in the community,” said Tootle, who is married with five kids. “And this is where I want to raise my kids.”

“COVID in a weird way represented an inflection point for us,” Alan Gilchrest, senior vice president of conversational AI at LivePerson, told MarketWatch. Gilchrest, his wife, and daughter moved to the family’s vacation home in Waikoloa Beach, Hawaii, from Bellevue, Wash., in March as COVID ravaged the Pacific Northwest.

Gilchrest, 49, starts his typical workday at 4 a.m. with a meeting and goes until 7 p.m. local time. (He fits in training time blocks during the day for “cathartic breaks.”) “What it means: My bed time is a lot earlier,” he said.

The view is equally grand from the desk of Liz Van Halsema, 29, who works at a lake house near Grand Rapids, Mich. She’s spent the past few months with family members there though her job at CHG Healthcare, based in Salt Lake City and where she once had an apartment. “I’m not sure where I will end up living, but I can work anywhere with the support of my company,” she said.

The trio’s exodus from tech strongholds to the hinterlands is becoming as commonplace during the pandemic as working from home. In fact, the two trends are linked: As Americans hunker down for the long haul at home, many are choosing to relocate while keeping their jobs. An American Community Survey found the fastest-growing commute was no commute, as work-from-home arrangements become more popular everywhere.

This recent phenomenon is borne in tech job listings by city from May to June by Dice, an online hub for technology professionals. The leaders were smaller cities such as Richmond, Va. (33% year-over-year growth), Arlington, Va. (28%), and Austin, Texas (16%). Established, larger tech hubs like New York (-32%) and San Francisco (-32%) experienced the steepest declines, although they still boasted 31,000 and 20,000 job listings, respectively.

Accelerating the movement is fevered competition among America’s second- and third-tier cities for workers in Silicon Valley and other tech hubs. Nothing new about that — it’s been going on for years. But with COVID-19 still raging across the U.S., there’s a new twist to recruiting efforts that makes moving a more compelling offer. Some cities are offering money to move — from $15,000 in Topeka, Kan., to $10,000 in Tulsa, Okla., and $2,000 in Savannah — and inexpensive housing to scoop up remote workers dissatisfied with living in urban areas with no end in sight to the pandemic.

Ottawa is readying a recruitment program to lure tech workers to the Canadian capital. It isn’t offering financial incentives — just an affordable, “family friendly” region with access to plenty of tech companies and resources, according to Jamie Petten, president of Kanata North Business Association in Ottawa.

Meanwhile, exotic locations like Barbados and the bucolic setting of Burlington, Vt., offer tempting vistas and financial incentives to relocate.

“There is more interest now than in previous years. This incentive is a great way for technology workers to think about relocating to Savannah, especially those who are able to work remotely, given the current public health crisis,” Jennifer Bonnett, vice president of innovation and entrepreneurship at the Savannah Economic Development Authority, told MarketWatch.

So far, six people have moved, and they have submitted applications that should quality. In all, 70 have expressed interested in relocating from California, New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois, said Bonnett. The program is budgeted for up to 50 people to relocate this year.

The Greater Topeka Partnership is paying up to $15,000 for tech workers to move into a house, and $10,000 to an apartment, as it tries to lure a coveted workforce that is highly educated and well paid. It has filled roughly a third of the 60 slots it has available, spokesman Bob Ross told MarketWatch.

“It was time to move closer to my family,” Dan Mills, 42, a systems engineer for tech consultancy Premiere One, who bought a house in Topeka this year, told MarketWatch. “It was time for a change.”

Workers’ flight to less-populated areas comes as major employers such as Uber Technologies Inc.
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, Facebook Inc.
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, Google parent Alphabet Inc.
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and Atlassian Corp.
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announced employees are likely to work from home through at least mid-2021. “There’s currently no end in sight for when our teams here will be able to return to our offices,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said during a conference call with analysts following the company’s second-quarter earnings in July.

But he hastily added that their salaries would be commensurate with where they live. “That means if you live in a location where the cost of living is dramatically lower, or the cost of labor is lower, then salaries do tend to be somewhat lower in those places,” Zuckerberg said.

See also: Facebook employees may face pay cut if they move to cheaper areas to work from home

The freedom to work from home indefinitely, in turn, will “change the landscape in how people are working and living for the next decade,” Upwork Inc.
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CEO Hayden Brown told MarketWatch in a phone interview last week.

More than half of the American workforce currently works from home. Fifty-six percent of hiring managers say the shift has gone better than expected, and only one in 10 thinks things are worse, according to an Upwork survey released in June. This led 61.9% of hiring managers to say the workforce will increasingly go remote, more than doubling the growth rate of full-time remote workers over the next five years to 65% from 30%.

What a mass relocation will do to the workforce and employers is hard to predict, but it is likely to have lasting impact on the use of commercial real estate and how businesses operate, say academic experts.

One possible outcome is the creation of two types of workers: Those who work in offices with access to all available resources, and those at home without, Columbia University business professor Stephan Meier told MarketWatch. “It could hinder professional development for someone working in Kansas who is employed by a company in California,” he said.



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Uber and Lyft must make drivers employees because California law has ‘overwhelming’ edge, judge says


A California judge ruled Monday that Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc. must classify their drivers as employees due to a new state law, a decision that threatens the business models of the ride-hailing giants and other gig-economy companies.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the city attorneys of San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego sued the companies earlier this year, asking a judge for a mandatory injunction ordering the companies to comply immediately with a new state law over worker classification, which became effective Jan. 1. Uber
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is challenging the constitutionality of the law, known as Assembly Bill 5, or AB 5, and in a hearing last week argued against an immediate injunction pending a trial in that lawsuit, which may not happen for months.

The two San Francisco-based ride-hailing rivals have built their multibillion-dollar companies on treating drivers as independent contractors instead of employees, pitching themselves as online platforms that simply connect drivers and riders. A 2018 California Supreme Court ruling adopted a new standard for employee classification in the state, which was codified by AB 5 and cited by the judge Monday to force a big change on ride-hailing companies that operate in California.

Judge Ethan Schulman of the California Superior Court in San Francisco struck at the heart of the gig economy in granting the injunction, calling the drivers “central, not tangential” to the ride-hailing giants’ business. Schulman also alluded to the companies’ ability to avoid such a ruling as they grew rapidly and faced several legal challenges in recent years.

“Defendants are not entitled to an indefinite postponement of their day of reckoning,” he wrote.

Schulman gave Uber and Lyft 10 days before having to make the change, pending an appeal that Uber and Lyft LYFT representatives said the companies plan to file.

“The court’s ruling is stayed for a minimum of 10 days, and we plan to file an immediate emergency appeal on behalf of California drivers,” an Uber spokesman told MarketWatch in an email.

Uber and Lyft argued in Thursday’s hearing that an injunction would be unprecedented and affect hundreds of thousands of drivers.

“Drivers do not want to be employees, full stop,” a Lyft spokesman wrote. “We’ll immediately appeal this ruling and continue to fight for their independence. Ultimately, we believe this issue will be decided by California voters and that they will side with drivers.” 

Driver organizer Nicole Moore of Rideshare Drivers United in Los Angeles disagreed in an interview Monday

“This is absolutely the best-case scenario,” she said. “It shows that the state of California is behind drivers.”

Legal experts said Monday afternoon the companies are likely to ask for an extension to the 10-day period, but that the appeal could be a longshot.

“I would think the companies have a big mountain to climb,” said William Gould, emeritus professor at Stanford Law School and a former chief of the National Labor Relations Board. “Their sky-will-fall arguments are more appropriately addressed to the legislature than the judiciary.”

Uber, Lyft and other gig-economy companies see another road to success. They placed an initiative on the state ballot in November that offers worker concessions but would exempt the companies from having to comply with the new California law. Uber, Lyft and other gig companies say 76,000 drivers support Prop. 22, and often tout the flexibility they offer drivers and delivery workers as a reason for not wanting to classify them as employees.

That argument “presents a false choice,” Gould said, maintaining that gig companies can choose to employ drivers and delivery workers as part-timers, for example.

“Employees can be flexible —much of the last quarter-century has been given over to making employees more flexible in deciding how and when work is done in manufacturing.” 

U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., who has tried to push the Essential Workers Bill of Rights through Congress during the COVID-19 pandemic, feels the same way.

“Classifying workers rightfully as employees does not prevent flexible and on-demand hours for gig workers,” he said in an emailed statement.

The worker-classification issue has long been controversial. In 2018, a California Supreme Court decision, called Dynamex, established a new “ABC test” for when a worker can be classified an independent contractor: if A: They control their work; B: If their duties fall outside the scope of a company’s normal business; and C: If they are “engaged in an independently established trade, occupation or business.”

Schulman wrote that the gig-economy companies cannot pass the second prong of that law, and therefore “the likelihood that the People will prevail on their claim that Defendants have misclassified their drivers is overwhelming.”

Uber has made changes to its app that it says meet the ABC test because they give drivers some semblance of control over their work, such as in setting rates for rides. Labor and legal experts said that type of change is unlikely to fly under the new law, and that only reclassification will work.

“The court’s ruling today finally forces Uber and Lyft to comply with employment law that has required them to treat their drivers as employees since the California Supreme Court ruled nearly two and a half years ago that gig economy drivers are employees, not independent contractors,” said Catherine Fisk, law professor at UC Berkeley, in an email. “The judge’s opinion reveals the court’s frustration with the companies’ delaying tactics and their legal arguments that border on frivolous. The judge made clear the costs that drivers have borne.”

“The court has weighed in and agreed: Uber and Lyft need to put a stop to unlawful misclassification of their drivers while our litigation continues,” Becerra said in a statement Monday. “While this fight still has a long way to go, we’re pushing ahead to make sure the people of California get the workplace protections they deserve.”

The judge’s decision on Monday coincided with Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s op-ed in the New York Times, which addressed concerns about driver benefits that have intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Uber and other gig companies do not pay into state unemployment funds that some of their workers have tapped into — if their applications were approved — as ride-hailing drivers saw demand for their services decimated during widespread lockdowns in the past few months. Khosrowshahi proposed that gig companies establish benefit funds for drivers and delivery workers, who can use them for health insurance or paid time off. Lyft’s co-founders have also expressed support for these so-called portable benefits in the past.

As Uber and Lyft prepare their appeals after Monday’s ruling, they are also facing a separate lawsuit filed last week by California’s labor commissioner, accusing the companies of wage theft and failure to provide their drivers benefits such as health insurance and overtime pay.

Shares of Uber and Lyft dropped in after-hours trading following the announcement of the ruling Monday, with Uber declining 2.1% and Lyft falling 2.6%. Neither have lived up to their 2019 IPO valuations: Uber has declined 18.3% since then and Lyft has fallen 49.1%



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The most disturbing part of the Twitter hack: Many of its employees have access to accounts


On July 17, 130 high-profile Twitter accounts were hijacked for the purpose of tweeting messages that solicited cryptocurrency scams.

As a result, 12.58 bitcoin
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or close to $116,000, went to addresses mentioned in fraudulent tweets. According to an official tweet, the social-networking service fell victim to “… a coordinated social engineering attack by people who successfully targeted some of employees with access to internal systems and tools.”

The story illustrates that a system is only as strong as its weakest link. In this case, it was a brain, not a machine, that was hacked.

Social engineering

Social engineering is a psychological manipulation of people to perform actions or divulge confidential information. Greed, dishonesty, vanity, opportunism, lust, compassion, credulity, irresponsibility, desperation and naivete are all human traits that can be exploited, and no social-engineering scheme is the same.

As its basis, it involves recognizing “weak links” in a victim’s character, gaining a person’s trust or abusing his lack of suspicion, and then playing on those weaknesses to perform a malicious act. In Twitter’s case, it was tricking key employees into giving hackers access to internal systems and tools.

“We used a rep that literally done all the work for us,” one of the hackers said in an interview with Motherboard, while other added that the Twitter representative got paid for providing access to a special set of Twitter internal tools that enabled them to do the deed. Screenshots of the tools were leaked after the hack took place.

The real news

While many obsess over dissecting this information and getting into the nitty-gritty of what really happened with Twitter, the fact that many of its employees — over 1,000, according to Reuters — have such access over every individual account is the real news. It shows that Twitter cannot only block/unblock your account (which is fine), but also that it has access to private messages (known as “direct messages,” or DMs) sent to or by you.

This last part is the most worrisome aspect, as it means that nothing published on Twitter is ever private. Rather, it’s visible to many Twitter employees. They can peruse your DMs and do whatever they please with your private correspondence without you ever realizing it.

Twitter has never been a politically neutral platform, and knowing that its employees have this kind of power and oversight over the communication of those they deem dangerous or simply disagreeable is deeply worrying. It goes without saying that you should never share on Twitter any information, especially via DMs, that you would not otherwise share publicly. This will remain the case until the company implements end-to-end encryption for direct messages. (End-to-end encryption is a method of secure communication that prevents third parties from accessing data while it’s transferred from one device to another.)

But Twitter isn’t the only social-networking platform with “special tools.” Two years ago, the New York Post reported of a security engineer at Facebook
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who was accused of using their “privileged access” to personal data to stalk women online. SnapLion is a tool of choice for eager Snapchat employees, enabling them unfettered access to the user data. I’m sure the list goes on, and I’m also sure that some of this info finds its way to the dark web, where more notorious individuals gain access to your personal data for nefarious purposes.

When asked, many of these companies will say that the access to personal and private data is sometimes necessary — for example, to respond to a government inquiry or to provide system maintenance. Even if this were true, one thing is certain: If this access isn’t properly monitored, it will inadvertently be abused. Perhaps not by an entire company trying to sabotage your political endeavors, but simply by an overly curious employee — or a hacker.

This is not acceptable. Insisting on end-to-end encryption should be a hill to die on, lest we lose the last shreds of our privacy.

What do you think? Let me know in the comment section below.

Jurica Dujmovic is a MarketWatch columnist.





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Alibaba, Jack Ma summoned by Indian court on former employee’s complaint By Reuters


© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Jack Ma, founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, speaks during the launch of Alibaba’s office in Kuala Lumpur

By Aditya Kalra

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – An Indian court has summoned Alibaba (NYSE:) and its founder Jack Ma in a case in which a former employee in India says he was wrongfully fired after objecting to what he saw as censorship and fake news on company apps, documents seen by Reuters showed.

The case comes weeks after India cited security concerns in banning Alibaba’s UC News, UC Browser and 57 other Chinese apps after a clash between the two countries’ forces on their border.

Following the ban, which China has criticized, India sought written answers from all affected companies, including whether they censored content or acted for any foreign government.

In court filings dated July 20 and previously not reported, the former employee of Alibaba’s UC Web, Pushpandra Singh Parmar, alleges the company used to censor content seen as unfavourable to China and its apps UC Browser and UC News showcased false news “to cause social and political turmoil”.

Civil Judge Sonia Sheokand of a district court in Gurugram, a satellite city of India’s capital, New Delhi, has issued summons for Alibaba, Jack Ma and about a dozen individuals or company units, asking them to appear in court or through a lawyer on July 29, court documents showed.

The judge has also sought written responses from the company and its executives within 30 days, according to the summons.

UC India said in a statement it had been “unwavering in its commitment to the India market and the welfare of its local employees, and its policies are in compliance with local laws. We are unable to comment on ongoing litigation”.

Alibaba representatives did not respond to requests for comment from the Chinese company or on behalf of Jack Ma.

Parmar, who worked as an associate director at the UC Web office in Gurugram until October 2017 and is seeking $268,000 in damages, referred Reuters queries to his lawyer, Atul Ahlawat, who declined to comment saying the matter was sub judice.

The court case is the latest hurdle for Alibaba in India after the Indian government’s app ban, following which UC Web has started laying off some staff in India.

Before the apps were banned, the UC Browser had been downloaded at least 689 million times in India, while UC News had 79.8 million downloads, most during 2017 and 2018, data from analytics firm Sensor Tower showed.

ALLEGATIONS IN COURT

India has said it banned the 59 apps after it received “credible inputs” that such apps posed a threat to India’s sovereignty. Its IT minister said the decision was taken to safeguard citizens’ data and public order.

In more than 200 pages of court filings, reviewed by Reuters, former employee Parmar included clippings of some posts showcased on the UC News app that he alleged were false.

One post from 2017 was headlined in Hindi: “2,000-rupee notes to be banned from midnight today”. Another headline of a 2018 post said: “Just now: War broke out between India and Pakistan” and contained description of firing across the disputed border between the countries.

Reuters could not independently verify the veracity of the claims in the court filing. India did not ban its 2,000-rupee currency note and no war occurred between India and Pakistan in 2018.

The lawsuit also contains a “sensitive words list” with key words in Hindi and English like “India-China border” and “Sino-India war” that the court filing alleges were used by UC Web to censor content on its platforms in India.

“In order to control any news related content to be published against China was automatically/manually rejected by an audit system evolved for this purpose,” the filing said.

The Chinese Embassy in New Delhi and China’s foreign ministry in Beijing, as well as India’s IT ministry in New Delhi, did not respond to requests for comment.





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Top Canadian lenders plan to fill 3.5% of senior roles with Black employees By Reuters


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© Reuters. The CIBC logo is seen outside of a branch in Ottawa

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(Reuters) – Bank of Nova Scotia (TO:) and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (TO:) said they plan to fill at least 3.5% of their top roles with Black employees as part of an initiative that aims to fight racism and improve the representation of Black people in boardrooms.

The initiative, labeled “BlackNorth,” was launched by Wes Hall, a prominent Canadian businessman and the chairman of proxy advisory firm Kingsdale Advisors. It urged executives to fill at least 3.5% of senior executive and board positions in Canada with Black leaders by 2025. (https://bwnews.pr/2Of8eE4)

Companies across the globe have announced donations to nonprofit organizations and pledged money for internal company programs for racial and social justice causes amid worldwide protests over the death of George Floyd, an African-American man who died under the knee of a white police officer in May.

Royal Bank of Canada (TO:), the country’s biggest lender, said on Monday it was committing C$150 million ($111 million) to racial diversity initiatives and aims to increase the proportion of non-white executive hires to 30% from 20%.

Last month, Manulife Financial Corp (TO:) and Scotiabank pledged C$3.5 million and C$500,000, respectively, for diversity initiatives.

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